November 16, 2007

Great Prosthetic Devices in Movie History

  • C.D. Bales's Nose, in Roxanne
    "You feel yourself not staring. Then you think, "it's obvious I'm not staring." So you look, and you think, "I'm staring." So you say, "this is ridiculous," and you take a good look. And you think, "I'm looking at a man who, when he washes his face, loses the bar of soap."
    How many movies rest on a nose? Could this movie be made with a bad prosthetic nose? Through every minute of the film, viewers scrutinize the protruding proboscis Steve Martin wears as C.D. Bales in this 1987 romantic comedy. The fake nose is completely seamless. When Bales (or another character) touches the nose, it looks completely lifelike, or at least how you'd imagine a nose that size would look. The amount of energy which must have gone into such a perfect fake nose must be staggering.
  • The Hobbit feet in The Lord Of The Rings • There are 1,001 special effects challenges in The Lord Of The Rings, but the fact that Hobbits always go barefoot must have been the most tedious. It's all too easy for a science fiction or fantasy novelist to mention peculiar features of their characters: Zaphod Beeblebrox's two heads, and Hobbits' oversized bare feet come to mind. Making these peculiar features seem lifelike is much more work. The Hobbit feet are completely unspectacular, and their screen time is pretty limited. The feet make this list as an honor to Peter Jackson and his cast and crew, for going to the trouble of putting those latex feet on over and over again.
  • grouchomarxGroucho Marx's eyebrows and mustache • Groucho's greasepaint mustache and eyebrows turned his comedic character's face into a joke as broad as the humor of the Marx brothers' movies, and turned the Groucho character into a instantly recognizable worldwide icon. People around the world of all ages have seen the "Groucho Marx" disguise, an instant shorthand for laughs.
  • The Joker's face, in Batman (1989) • The comic books of the 1980s portrayed the Joker as a caricature of a man, with hideously distorted features. The 1989 Tim Burton movie bothered to create a reasonable origin for the Joker: Jack Napier, a powerful Mob lieutenant, is shot through the face, then nearly drowns in toxic chemicals, which bleach his skin and hair. His back-alley surgeon butchers the patch-up job, and the Napier's mind cracks after one glance at his new permanent grimace in the mirror. The prosthetic face Nicholson wears, especially when he wears flesh-tone makeup over his sickly white skin, is very effective.
  • Spock's ears, on Star Trek • The fake ears Leonard Nimoy wore every week on Star Trek were perfect. The combination of the ears, haircut, eyebrows, and makeup were very effective in making Leonard Nimoy (who looked kind of exotic anyways) look like an alien without being distracting.
  • Marko Ramius's hair, in The Hunt For Red October • Sean Connery has been losing his hair for a long time. When he began wearing follicular supplements we may never know. What we do know, however, is that the most spectacular, realistic, and flattering hairpiece he ever wore in a movie as as Captain Ramius in The Hunt For Red October. I recently saw Entrapment again on HBO, and his hairpiece in that movie was very good, and must have been expensive. There's no reason why any of Connery's fictional portrayals require hair, but I bet Connery has it in his contracts that the studio must provide a top-shelf hairpiece.
  • melaniegriffithMaria Ruskin's breasts, in The Bonfire Of The Vanities • I had to include a pair of famously augmented breasts on this list, and the story of Melanie Griffith's breast augmentation is famously well-documented: according to The Devil's Candy, Julie Salamon's book on the making of Vanities, Griffith had the boob job done after the exteriors were shot on location in New York, but before the production returned to Los Angeles for the interior scenes. Griffith gives her new implants a workout, with one spectacular orange gown, and two striptease scenes.

    Speaking of stripteases, an honorable mention goes to Demi Moore's breasts in Striptease. Moore was paid a then-record $12,000,000 to play the part, and specifically, to show the world her boob job.

  • The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard Of Oz • She's the iconic Witch: the makeup and prosthetics which transform Margaret Hamilton into the Witch serve the character, not themselves- if pressed to describe the character, I might say "she's evil and hideous" not, "she has green skin, a big nose, and a pointy chin".